Opioid, booze, violent deaths by county: America’s hot spots aren’t created equal

A study released Tuesday shows drug use disorder deaths increased six-fold in the United States nationwide from 1980 to 2014. Alcohol use disorder deaths dipped slightly.

But by county, the study tells a disturbing story: In some places, deaths by booze abuse skyrocketed, as did deaths by suicide and interpersonal violence.

Regarding deaths from alcohol use disorder, counties in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Alaska saw the largest decreases. The largest increases were in the western and northern United States.

And in some counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Eastern Oklahoma, deaths by drug abuse ricocheted across the Appalachians, with increases amounting to a staggering 5,000 percent.

New Mexico, Alabama and Tennessee also had more drug abuse deaths than the rest of the U.S. Still, as a nation, death by drugs has multiplied a walloping 600 percent.

“Western counties generally experienced higher levels of mortality than counties in the East, and counties with especially high mortality rates, compared with the rest of the United States, were found in parts of Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Alaska,” according to the original investigation published in JAMA.

It sounds a shrilling alarm about public health inequities in the United States as well as successes and failures by state and local governments.

Suicide deaths balloon with alcohol deaths in west

While suicide deaths dipped nationwide from 1980 to 2014, in the West – where alcohol abuse deaths ballooned – so did deaths by self-harm.

Gun deaths, too, rose in places unexpected – those were NOT in the West, and not necessarily urban areas either. Those were all over the map.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first to consider alcohol and drug use disorders, apart from other types of unintentional poisonings and distinct from intentional overdoses, at the county level in the United States,” the academics reported. “These findings highlight the need for a multipronged public health response focusing on prevention, harm reduction (drug treatment that encourages less use when abstinence is not likely), treatment and recovery support.”

Interpersonal violence spiked in Midwestern and Atlantic states while dipping in Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Texas, California and New York.

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